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As a parent myself I know that when our children do something wrong, act against our will or just be lazy, we find ourselves throwing phrases at them … possibly phrases that have been thrown at us when we were children … phrases similar to “You’re always failing!” “You never do anything right!” “You’re never going to get anywhere in life!” Our intention could be to shock them into focusing and doing something about their situation … however we also know that rarely does this work.

Self-worth is a delicate matter … handle with care

When we lash out in this way, we unknowingly cause them psychological damage that can sometimes be irreversible. Think about it, children and teens are still getting to know who they are so making them feel like they are a failure or worthless can really shape their sense of self-worth.

As humans our sense of self-worth is central to how we function, relate to others and generally organize ourselves throughout our lives. Without this, no matter how hard we push them, children will not believe they can make it and will continue to exhibit self-defeating behaviors such as lack of motivation, aggression towards themselves or others or disabling anxieties.

Understanding the relationship our child has with failure

What we should be teaching our children instead is that failure paves the way to success and furthers productivity. To develop such a positive perspective, we ought to understand our children better to empower them to move forward.

  • Does your child try too hard? Maybe they have a fear of failure. They exert so much effort in order not to fail that this causes over stress and anxiety.
  • Does your child’s fear of failure cause them to avoid facing situations to avoid the possibility of failure altogether? Failure-avoiding students’ interest is not to be labeled as a failure. Therefore, they create excuses, procrastination and possibly avoid any participation in class, and school activities.
  • Has your child simply come to the conclusion that they are a failure and therefore has given up being productive? In this case their motivation could be almost lost.

The common factor in all these scenarios is that punishing our children when they fail and engendering a sense of one being a failure is not helpful, to the contrary is self-defeating.

Self-care and self-compassion

To be able to experience failure in a healthy way, we need to show our children that the first step is to accept one’s capabilities as well as have a sense of self-forgiveness. Once we remove the issue of the child having to protect themselves from being a failure, then they become free to start setting themselves some realistic and achievable goals.

Self-compassion goes hand in hand with the practice of self-care. In times of stress like during exams or when facing disappointing results, self-care will help your child bounce back and not lose motivation. 

Be a parent not a judge

Over-parenting and lecturing by both parents and teachers do not work. There are a number of things that we can do to support our children through such failures:

  • Emphasize on children’s self-worth
  • Become positive listeners with our children
  • Even though we do not agree with their behaviors, show them that we understand their feelings
  • Help them realize the true reasons why they go to school
  • Explain what grades realistically have to do with future career
  • Offer help in assessing whether there are some learning difficulties holding them back
  • Assist in exploring their capabilities, skills and hobbies
  • Empower children and trust them

Embrace failure

Failure can become a gift and an opportunity for bringing about positive change. It makes one stop and reflect on where one stands. It is important to educate children that even though they have failed at a step or two, they have not lost the chance to become the best that they can.

Anthea D’Amico is a counsellor and supervisor at Willingness. She works both with children and adults. You can contact her on anthea@willingness.com.mt or 79291817.